You may not believe this but…

Worrying can actually be good for you.

You’re not alone if you worry. Everyone does it at one time or another.

People worry about their children, money, relationships, you name it….

Crazy old Aunt Irma came to visitOr how long your Aunt Irma will stay this time. You hate her meatloaf she insists on cooking.

And you can do without her snide criticism.

We’ve worked with a bunch of different business owners over the years, and their worry follows a familiar pattern:

  • “I’m worried that I can’t get along with my partner.”
  • “I’m worried that I won’t be able to make payroll”
  • “I’m worried about my competition.”
  • etc.

It’s not just adults who worry, though…

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting with Michelle (name changed to protect her…), a beloved relative. She’s almost 13, and in the tortuous middle school years.

worrying can start at a young ageWe talked about how much she worries.  “Maybe the questions on a test won’t be what I studied for, maybe there won’t be anyone to talk to at lunch…”

She shared with me that she’s never liked change and that new situations really throw her off.

I knew that she had learned that worry pattern from her Dad.

My heart went out to her… because I was just like her as a kid.

In fact, I’ve struggled with worry and anxiety a good bit of my life…

In this blog post, I’m going to explain the real reasons behind why we worry.

Why we worry – The Big Picture

As you see from Michelle’s story, the worry habit can get started really early.

Children unconsciously model their parents. If your parents worried about a lot of things when you were growing up, even if they didn’t speak their worries out loud, you might have started to worry from a young age.

a critical parent can set of a pattern of worryOr if you had a hyper-critical parent, chances are good that you started worrying early on in life.

This pattern can continue from childhood into adulthood as chronic worry.

So why do we worry?

Put simply, worry is our brain’s attempt to keep us safe

As we’ve discussed before, the number one job of your emotional brain is to keep you safe and away from harm. 

We’re not just talking about physical harm too… it could be any bad thing you think might happen – being criticized at work, losing money, being rejected, making a mistake in public and having people laugh at you, etc.

The Hidden Benefits of Worrying

So there’s a hidden benefit to worry:

The more you worry about all the possible outcomes that could happen, the less chance you have of being surprised by something bad happening.

So you spend a lot of time circling and circling around the same scenario. You work it over in your head from every different angle.

This is the inner logic that your Emotional Brain follows:

“If I think of all the possible outcomes, I’ll be more in control if something bad happens.”

In other words, it’s no wonder why we worry… worry is actually trying to HELP you!

So worry isn’t ALWAYS a bad thing…

In fact, worry can help you take necessary action to solve problems.

  • You might prepare extra hard for an interview if you’re worried about it.
  • If you’re worried about debt, it might push you to plan a budget.
  • If you’re worried about a deadline at work, you might push yourself to meet it.

When you look at it like that, worry is a GOOD thing to your Emotional Brain.  

The problem is when your worry gets out of control, or when it comes up really often and starts affecting the quality of your life.

Chronic worry can really make you feel miserable and can take a big toll on your emotional and physical health.

Why We Worry on a Brain Level

As you can see, worry has an important survival function. That’s why we worry so much and have a hard time stopping it.

On a brain level, when you find yourself locked down in worry it means that your amygdala is blaring at you.

The amygdala is shaped like an almond and is tucked deep within your brain.  It is designed to keep you safe by alerting you to danger.

having an overreactive amygdala explains why we worryThat’s why brain scientists call it the “smoke detector.” It’s job is to detect a fire (danger) and alert you to it.

Your amygdala has evolved over eons of time from when we lived on the savannah and we had to know where the dangerous animals lurked… or we would be lunch.

If you worry a lot, this part of your brain might actually be more sensitive than the average person’s.

People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (basically, they worry a lot about a lot of things…) have a hyper-reactive amygdala. They see danger in situations that might be completely innocent.

When we struggle with chronic worry, we can be quickly triggered by things our brain interprets as dangerous… like uncertainty about the future or things we mull over and remember from the past.

a neural network of worry can be createdIf you worry a lot, you actually develop neural tracks in the brain that are like a super fast highway.

As an example, you may have experienced worrying about someone or something and then finding yourself switching to another topic for worry, and then even another topic.

But it’s not just what happens in your brain that matters…

When you worry your brain releases the stress hormones of cortisone and adrenaline. These chemicals create the physical symptoms of worry: tension in your body, an elevated heart rate, lack of focus and distractibility, etc.

The Number One Trigger For Worry…

Years ago, my anxiety roared back into my life when I started my coaching and training business.

Being a business owner was a far cry from being a college professor.

I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.

stress can lead to worryI was wracked with worry. “What if I fail? What if I can’t figure this out? How do I get clients?”

I went to a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders. He was wonderful and he helped me a lot.

He explainer to me why we worry. I’ll always remember what he told me: “If I could cure uncertainty, I could cure anxiety.”

It’s the fear of uncertainty that is behind the worries of those of us who go through periods of worrying too much.

Uncertainty is the #1 reason why we worry…

Core Beliefs Explain Why We Worry

Chronic worry is usually never about the situation you face.

“Core Beliefs” really explain why we worry, as well… When you worry about something and can’t seem to let it go… it usually means you’ve tripped up on a core belief.

Core beliefs are global beliefs that you learn as a child from the people around you. These beliefs form the way that you view yourself and the world.

why we worry starts in childhoodCore beliefs are usually deeply rooted in your unconscious mind. So you are probably not aware of them, but they’re huge for why we worry.

Core beliefs are unique to each person, depending on what happened to them as a kid.

For example, I learned from my mother that I had to please and take care of others before I took care of myself.

This belief is a common one for women.

I also learned this lesson from my critical and demanding dad:  “I have to be perfect to be safe.”

Both of these core beliefs have impacted me a lot and caused me to worry a lot throughout life…

I tried to please every male boss that I had.  And I secretly worried that I could upset them and make them mad if I didn’t do things perfectly.

I didn’t realize how these limiting beliefs impacted me until I gained some understanding of them as an adult.

Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Limiting Beliefs for a deeper explanation of how these beliefs get formed. And some suggestions of how to overcome them.

Michael Finally Understands the Reasons Behind His Worry

Here’s another story that shows the role core beliefs have in causing worry…

An image of our client Michael used to struggle with anxiety and worry every dayMichael was a client of ours who suffered from regular bouts of anxiety and worry. When we started working with him he had trouble almost daily with worry and self-doubt.

If any little thing didn’t go perfectly at work, it caused a huge worry storm. He felt his chest start to stir and the anxiety butterflies started fluttering around in his stomach.

Michael knew that his emotional reactions were bigger than the situation called for. He also knew that a lot of his worry was irrational and probably wasn’t based on reality.

But it didn’t stop him from feeling stress and worry almost every day.

Using some simple brain techniques for uncovering core beliefs, we helped Michael discover the source of his worry:

He was deathly afraid of being seen as “incompetent and incapable.”

Once he put words to his belief, he was amazed that he started to see the pattern. Any time his anxiety and worry would come up, he knew exactly what was at the root of it.

A week after this discovery, he told us: “It’s amazing because now when I get anxious, I know that it’s my brain telling me I might be incompetent or incapable.”

The irony is that everybody who knows him sees him as very competent and capable.

So… what to do if you worry?

As you can see from Michael’s story, the solution to dealing with chronic worry and anxiety is to understand the meanings your emotional brain has linked with experiences from your past.

If you have chronic worry and anxiety, you probably have some core beliefs that don’t serve you. These beliefs lead you to see danger where there isn’t any.

It might be something like,

  • “I have to be perfect.”
  • “I have to please everybody.”
  • “It’s dangerous to make a mistake.”

Maybe you’re like Michael and you’re worrying too much about stuff that’s happening.  For some simple strategies to help you stop worrying check out Stop Worrying: 4 Ways to be Calm and Confident.